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Cale Etter: Reclaiming the Faith After Atheism

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Written by Nadia Thomas

Cale Etter came to Bethany Global University as a freshman in 2015 after feeling the call to overseas missions in high school. He wanted to be a pastor his freshman year of high school, but began to lean more towards pursuing a career in missions after going on a few state-side mission trips.

During his freshman year at BGU, he began to question some stories and claims of the Bible that he believed didn’t line up with science, specifically the fields of history, archaeology, biology, and geology. He did research on his own time and considered atheist arguments, which he found so convincing that he eventually became an atheist and left BGU. After two years of extensive research and searching for answers to the questions that deterred him away from the faith, he eventually found the answers that he needed and not only came back to the faith, but also is coming back to BGU in the fall of 2019.

We recently interviewed him to hear his journey with BGU and atheism.

Before coming to BGU, how long did you know the Lord for?

Cale: I actually grew up knowing the Lord; I’ve known Him my whole life. My parents are Christians and they raised me in a Christian home.

What first sparked your interest in BGU?

I had interest in missions in general after going on a few state-side missions trips. I wanted to be a pastor when I was a freshman in high school, but I started leaning more towards missions. As this was during my junior year of high school, I was considering going to college but had no idea how to blend my desires for missions with college. One day, I just Googled “missions college” and BGU was the first thing to pop up.

I specifically wanted to work with kids. Seeing the education minor offered was a huge plus, and I was instantly sold on coming to BGU. Global internship was also a huge plus, as many other students, alumni, and prospects will quickly agree.

What deterred you from the Lord while you were BGU?

What deterred me from the Lord while I was at BGU wasn’t me being mad at God, it was all philosophical. I began to notice that there were a few things throughout scripture that didn’t necessarily line up with science that caused a lot of doubts in me. After listening to atheist arguments on YouTube and after doing my own research, I just saw a lot of lack of evidence for certain aspects of the Bible, so I became an atheist because there were a few things that I thought couldn’t possibly be true. I left BGU because I didn’t want to pretend to be a Christian; I didn’t want to go somewhere and preach something that I don’t think is true.

What was it that brought you back to the Lord?

When I was an atheist, I didn’t do anything crazy like go to clubs and drink and stuff, I just worked and did a lot of research in my free time. My passion for scripture didn’t go away after leaving the faith. What ultimately brought me back to the Lord was reconciling theological issues and making sense out of things that didn’t make sense through extensive research. I came to conclusions of specific aspects and stories in the Bible that I doubted.

Also, seeing how much the people from my old class cared about me had a huge part in my coming back. They remained some of the best friends a man could ask for despite both my atheism and my harsh words against not only their worldview but against them personally. I was blessed to come to their graduation a few weeks ago and they all greeted me not only as if we never missed a beat but also as if I never treated them unfairly. That is ultimately a reflection of Christ. I am forever grateful.

While I was an atheist, I didn’t reject the entire Bible, only parts that I believed didn’t line up with science. In my process of coming back to the Lord, I drastically altered my interpretation of the few “problem passages” and realized they could be true under the new paradigms formed with the all the information I discovered during my atheist years.

Nonetheless, there are some parts of the Bible that cannot be either verified or falsified. For these parts, I just chose to accept them, because that’s where faith comes in. We can’t know everything; we have to have faith.

Do you believe you really knew the Lord/were saved before coming to BGU?

Oh for sure. I was definitely saved before I left the faith. I had the mindset that if I die, I’ll die a martyr. My parents raised me in the faith. Now what I don’t know is if I lost salvation during my time away from the Lord. I just know I lived in a lot of rebellion and lived in the “freedom” I had, which wasn’t really freedom after all; it was the freedom of the world. 

How do you view science now after reconciling the theological issues you once had with science and scripture?

I view science three ways:

1. Science is a method, not a worldview.
Science is merely a how we get information; it is not the information itself. It is certainly not a belief system, and it is not a worldview bent on systematically destroying the Bible.

2. You use the scientific method to read the Bible.
An honest reader of the text puts aside his presupposed views and considers all passages of Scripture before reaching a conclusion, and even when they do, they remain open to other ideas. This honest evaluation of information and reaching a conclusion is precisely what the scientific method is.

3. Science and the Bible align with one another.
We have to realize that though the Bible may be given to us by Yahweh, it was not written by people with our literary style. While we may be used to very literal and straight-forward narratives, the ancient Semites did not write in this manner and often employed all sorts of poetic devices, even in prose, non-fiction sources. Without getting too deep into the nitty-gritty technical details, it’s not a stretch to see how the ancient Semites who wrote the Bible would describe the natural world in ways which are not literally true in our worldview but wholly consistent in theirs. In doing this, we no longer have to force the Bible into a war with the conclusions drawn by the natural sciences.

Why are you coming back to BGU a second time?

In my opinion, missions is the natural response to believing the Gospel. I’ve also always been good with kids and it seems natural to pursue an education degree. I want to come back to BGU and get training to be a missionary overseas and be able to learn theology while working with kids at the same time, so BGU is the perfect fit for me.

What are you looking forward to most in your time back?

The community aspect of BGU is something that was missing from my life in my time away from the Lord and I’m looking forward to being back in a like-minded community who accepts you for who you are. I felt loved by the students despite my apostasy. Although they didn’t agree with it, the people at BGU always accepted me for who I was and where I was at; that’s something that I never got when I was in the world.

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